The SHIELD Program
For the purposes of discussion, the following recommendations for policies and practices to be implemented can be thought of as the four key components of a single program designed to strategically target crime and the development of delinquent or antisocial behaviors through an informed, biosocial and neuropsychological developmental prevention strategy. For simplicity, these recommendations will be referred to as the foundations of a new Societal Health and Involved Educational and Locational Development (SHIELD) Program.
Building on the research summarized previously, and the success of educational initiatives like the Nurse-Family Partnership, the first component of the SHIELD Program focuses on educating individuals on the genetic and environmental influences, along with risk and protective factors, that have been shown to impact behavior and human development. Although broad in scope, the educational component should be implemented through a combination of existing institutions and services, with material targeted at the individuals seeking said services. Expectant mothers, which would include couples attempting to conceive as well as individuals and/or couples in the early stages of pregnancy, should be educated about the effects of tobacco and alcohol use, environmental exposure to pesticides and other commonly used commercial chemicals, potential exposure to lead based on their environmental conditions, and other such toxins that have been shown to affect the developing fetus. Similarly, public marketing campaigns that encourage all individuals to seek out additional information about the impact of such toxins on neuropsychological development by speaking with healthcare professionals should be implemented, highlighting the need for understanding how such toxins may affect children from birth through adolescence. In addition to attempting to educate the entire population through mass marketing materials and programs, the institution of additional educational material in high school level biology classes that expose youth to the concepts of behavioral genetics will raise awareness of and receptivity to the educational component of the SHIELD Program as they age and mature.
At the elementary and middle school levels, however, the implementation of more intellectually stimulating assignments and projects throughout the peak developmental years can help provide long-term benefits to those youth who may have already been exposed to biological risk factors, as evidenced by the success of the Perry Preschool Project. In essence, removing the emphasis on standardized testing and supplementing core educational material with creative, analytical, and challenging projects and assignments increases the likelihood of encouraging greater growth and repair of potential neuropsychological deficits that may exist as a result of developmental impairments.
Coupled with educational guidance for society as a whole, targeted guidance for expectant mothers and couples attempting to conceive, general educational understanding and awareness for youth becoming adults, and targeted intellectual stimulation for children and adolescents, nutritional education and assistance becomes the second core component of the SHIELD Program. Although the educational component would be included in the aforementioned general educational component of the program, the inclusion of an expanded nutritional assistance program is semi-new territory. Modeled after the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Food and Nutrition Service, the nutritional assistance component of the SHIELD Program should target the distribution of nutritional supplements, such as Omega-3 fish oils, and vitamins to specific subsets of the population. Expectant mothers and couples attempting to conceive should receive prenatal vitamins and any recommended dietary supplements, at no cost, through healthcare professionals. Infants and children should receive multivitamins and recommended supplements until they begin to go through puberty, at which point the healthcare system should provide individualized nutritional counseling and recommendations for each adolescent to understand and follow, or not follow, at their own discretion.
Similar to the nutritional component outlined above, providing no-cost pre-, peri-, and postnatal care to all mothers, regardless of socioeconomic status or demographic variables, becomes the third core component of the SHIELD Program. Modeled after the success of the Nurse-Family Partnership, the expansion of the core ideas to all mothers allows this component to be the primary method of educational and nutritional component delivery of the SHIELD Program while simultaneously providing needed healthcare services during, and immediately following, pregnancy. Of all of the outlined recommendations, the enhanced pre-, peri-, and postnatal care component provides the most significant, and potentially the most effective, step in lowering the risks of neuropsychological deficits or abnormalities from forming in the developing child.
The final, and perhaps most difficult component of the SHIELD Program is the identification and neutralization of environmental toxins, and the restoration of contaminated environments. Recognizing that numerous substances, such as lead and commercially used chemicals, affect human development, the need for detecting and neutralizing the effects of such substances is paramount in creating a well-rounded crime prevention strategy based on reducing the risks associated with developmental impairments in humans. Restoration efforts should begin condemning locations identified as contaminated, barring new individuals from establishing a presence in such zones and offering relocation assistance to existing residents. Subsequently, once a location becomes vacant, the Environmental Protection Agency should oversee efforts to restore the location, while working with local contractors to reestablish housing and other communal buildings and properties in the newly decontaminated areas.
In essence, the SHIELD Program is designed to educate the entire population on the dangers posed to humans from environmental and genetic influences from conception through early childhood, target pregnant mothers and conceiving couples to provide educational and nutritional assistance, target pregnant mothers and children from birth through adolescence in the provision of needed nutritional assistance and healthcare, target children from preschool through primary and secondary school in providing intellectually stimulating and enriching content to attempt to combat neuropsychological deficits and genetic risk factors affecting brain functioning or structure, expose high school students to biosocial risk and protective factors through education, and work to ameliorate the effects of environmental contamination.
Costs, Benefits, and Assessment
Due to the heavy emphasis on education and awareness, most of the costs incurred by the SHIELD Program would arise from the nutritional assistance, provision of needed healthcare, and environmental remediation components of the program. Estimates of the cost of criminal offenses in the United States in 2007 were placed at $15 billion in economic losses to victims and $179 billion in government expenditures (McCollister, French, & Fang, 2010). Although the number for government expenditures includes the costs of operating the criminal justice system, reductions in crime would result in the redirection of funds from programs and institutions that would be no longer necessary into the SHIELD Program.
The benefits of lowering crime and increasing the healthiness of society cannot be overstated. Reducing incidents of aggressive behavior and reliance on federally run social welfare programs, and subsequently redirecting available funds to the SHIELD Program as needed, should significantly reduce the overall expense to society while simultaneously creating a healthier, safer environment for future generations. Economically, the bulk of the cost would arise from environmental restoration efforts, though the benefits of providing healthy, safe environments for continued generations of families to reside should not be taken lightly. It is recommended that a full cost-benefit analysis be undertaken prior to implementing the SHIELD Program, with open discourse on the provisions herein providing guidance in the development of an implementation strategy for each individual component over the span of five years.
In order to gauge the success or failure of the SHIELD Program, multiple measures must be utilized. Prior to implementing any component, required participation and categorization of detected criminal offenses with Unified Crime Reports must be unanimous across all law enforcement agencies. In addition, all healthcare systems must implement basic behavioral and risk assessments for all patients, with follow-up assessments performed every five years. Ethical concerns should dictate that all identifying information of these assessments be destroyed once coded into a unified reporting system, with compiled data providing snapshots of the presence or absence of risk factors in the population over time.
Unfortunately, no direct measures of success or failure are easily provided, though the use of self-reported crime and victimization surveys should continue to provide reasonable estimates of whether the SHIELD Program is effective over a five to ten year span.
Utilizing a multifaceted approach to target protective factors in neuropsychological and developmental health, in addition to increasing public awareness of biosocial influences on behavior, are the core components of the policy recommendations outlined herein as the basis for the proposed SHIELD Program. Building such a strategic, focused program draws heavily on concepts shown to be successful through existing programs, like the Nurse-Family Partnership and Perry Preschool project, while simultaneously taking into account findings from studies in behavioral genetics, psychology, education, and criminology. In addition, the recommendations outlined in the proposed SHIELD Program align with the three primary ways in which biosocial risk factors are able to be targeted by preventive strategies according to Beaver (2009): the education of parents, and especially pregnant mothers, about the importance of a healthy pregnancy, the provision of adequate prenatal healthcare for parents, and the provision of postnatal education and support of new parents in understanding the risk and protective factors identified as influential during early childhood development. Similarly, the components of the SHIELD Program align with the policy implications suggested by Barnes (2014): the elimination of environmental toxins, such as lead, the improvement of pre-, peri-, and postnatal care for children, and targeted interventions for high-risk individuals through school-based educational programs.
The first step in preventing crime is to address the underlying biological and environmental influences that cause deficits or abnormalities in brain structure and function. Given that the earlier in the life course the intervention occurs the more likely the success of the intervention, the SHIELD Program is designed to begin with the very first stages of human development. Although the initial costs of the program may be high, the long-term health of society as a whole relies on the successful implementation of efforts to reduce the development of antisocial and delinquent behaviors that lead to criminality. In short, societal health must begin with ensuring the healthy development of the members of society.
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